Of mules and men: Challenging relationships in WW1

An army mule tied in a wooden crush or stocks to hold it steady while it is shod. © National Library of Scotland
WarMule Thu, 01/05/2014 - 02:37

Together with the millions of horses employed by Allied troops in WW1 were mules. As horse losses mounted many mules were purchased, frequently from far away, arriving by ship to end up in the mud-filled trenches with handlers often ill-equipped to care for them. The introduction of British troops to mules must have been a challenge, as mules were not widely appreciated or used in the UK. A mule is not a horse, and to work successfully with them required a different attitude. A less developed flight response made them hard to drive on, and impossible cavalry mounts; a highly developed fight response made them quick and dangerous adversaries when faced with ill treatment. It was oft stated that there were two types of mule men; those that learnt to work considerately with them and those that ended up in the field hospital!

Understanding of the mule and its unique attributes and character developed and they became firm favourites with many troops who relied upon them to carry their most precious cargo in their calm and enduring way. The relationship between this unique equine and their handlers in WW1 will be examined in this presentation through the eyes of mule and man.

This presentation is by Faith Burden at the War Horses Conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on Saturday 3rd May 2014.

Faith Burden is Head of Research at The Donkey Sanctuary - the world’s largest charity dedicated to working with donkeys and mules both in the UK and internationally. Faith has published extensively on the care and welfare of donkeys and their hybrids and facilitates Donkey Sanctuary supported and funded research programmes to improve their knowledge of all things ‘long ears’. She has a personal passion for mules with a lifelong admiration of these unique equid hybrids and is lucky enough to share her life with two mules that constantly provide inspiration and daily insight in to the human-animal bond.

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